|MACHINE TO MACHINE THAT IS - tape recording made in 1988|
|by David Eide||.|
I am recording this in response to something I have been reading lately. It is on a subject I have thought about and concerned me since I was in college. This book was published in 1968- a portentous year for sure. Its basic theme is dehumanization in a technological society. This was another huge theme that many people tried to attack in one form or another. It is hard to say what that feeling of dehumanization was and how one went to "re-humanize' himself. It was not there, then it was there in full glory.
At first it was the recognition on how dependent human beings had become on "technology". Machinery to give him news, machinery to entertain him, machinery to get him from point A to point B, machinery to build things, machinery to move the whole economy. In other words technology structured community and it structured society regardless of anything in the past and anything that the individual desired. And the first key, to me, that this technological society was in fact a real thing was to look at the popular culture and to see how brutal and nasty it was; how technique in the popular culture had so much more power than the feeble human message that was being expressed. How much it hated itself.
It was tumultuous times. It was a war period. Vietnam was going on. It was the government carrying on these dehumanization's. It was the perfect foil for the abstract thoughts floating around at the time. There was a sense of crisis because there was so much effort made to unwrap and unravel that dehumanized husk that had grown around the human being simply as a fact of his existence.
There's no escaping the fact of technology. You have to get into an auto and drive it; you have to obey the street signs. You have to obey certain rules of vision, certain mechanical laws. You have to be rigid; you have to be alert for untoward movements on either side of you. You could argue that riding a horse conditions you in some way and that is exactly the point. I am sure the conditioning for riding horses had an effect on those riding horses just as driving busses, cars, and trucks has an effect on the people using them.
The real difference is that the machine is indeed a machine. It is a metal casing, an inanimate object made animate by the human being behind the wheel. It does demand full compliance to the life instinct because absent that there would be a good deal more damage done than there is. If you drive in a city for any length of time it appears an accident could occur every few minutes just in the way the traffic flows in and out with pedestrians and amateur drivers hustling for position. The criminals and saints drive the same streets but usually obey the same laws in the same way.
A prime symbol of our technology is the freeway; the freeway full of cars, flowing into the city. Experience that and you will experience a large difference between the past and the present.
Many people have analyzed the auto and its effect on the world. The geopolitics of oil is thrown in as is the spreading out of the city and, in fact, the way highways and freeways cut old communities up into barriers and separate communities. It certainly provided mobility for pleasure and profit.
If you are making an auto or technical object then your whole mind is absorbed into that technological object. No single person can build an auto or airliner or space shuttle. It takes an enormous amount of money, people, sophisticated techniques, and skill. So the society gets completely organized around the organization of building the machines or, in the case of government, buying the technology and then using it as proscribed by law, whether it is pollution controls or military hardware. The whole society is absorbed in machine-making, whereas at one point it was absorbed by cottage industries or farming. That's not a value judgment, simply a recognition that the mind absorbed in farm and land and relationship to the land is a lot different than the mind absorbed in some technical specialty in the industrial park outside the city.
The mind finds its place is this vast bureaucracy and then is paid off to become a consumer. Why not? I have little difficulty with taking capital, centering it in some central organizing project, distributing the capital throughout the organization, having those individuals cut away from the project for a private life and then that capital being spent all around the society. I don't think that is a terrible thing. But it does mark the society. It is what the society is. It stands to reason then that the end-point for the society would be a kind of technical wisdom; a right use of the things made.
For the poetic mind a red flag goes up when you can't do anything else. You either have to be attached to some larger organization, absorbed in that way, and then released at the end of the day to spend your money. Or, if you aren't part of that you are not alive; you are not a human being. You are subject to the wrath of the mass mind. It is a very strange thing when you experience it. From an economic point of view you can rationalize just about anything.
I think the pressure and stress that is created by all of this can be very dehumanizing and debilitating and turn the human being into something less than desirable. You see many types of pathological effects that are played out in the news all of the time. There are social effects like drug use or alcoholism that can be associated with this stress.
The pressure has effectively atomized the society so that it is operating on very separate and isolated channels. The system forces consuming, it makes consuming a social good, people transform that into pleasure. Pleasure becomes the central concern of the society.
It could be though that a society centered in pleasure and orientated toward the accumulation of desires is headed toward the tar pits simply because, at some point, it will not be able to sustain a crisis and it will not locate itself in reality. It will not be able to face problems that could damage, hurt, even destroy society.
And of course if you instill the expectation of endless pleasure at an early age you are conditioning the mind to be manipulated all its life.
I think this dehumanizing, as this author states, is felt as the emptiness of profound feeling or the inability to experience profound feeling; the inability to be moved profoundly by those things that used to move people. Such things as death, marriage, artistic creation, political affiliation and so forth. They don't have the kind of profound and ritual importance that they once had. It is almost as if they have tried to eradicate these feelings and it is something that will extract a debt down the line. That was, at least, an argument back in the day. The argument points more to a lack of resiliance in the modern mind.
I took a lot of these thoughts to heart. When I was in college I peered out and saw society pretty much prodded into great cities, oozing upward to find a niche and only disturbed by the inconvenience of getting into the steel pods where it was crowded with other steel pods. And that bothered me. And over a period of time, after some experience, it does become less a threat but it is still disturbing. I began to get a far more abstract view that separated me from a lot of that burden. I felt I was taking on a great burden by taking on some of these philosophical questions and I couldn't take all of that on, so I tried to separate myself from the depth of feeling I had experienced. I became a modern person. I became the critique.
It's now 20 years after the portentous year of 1968; some things I still adhere to. First of all we are in a very precarious position intellectually since we have the perception of living in a huge world, all of the variables which get more and more complicated and we simply cannot comprehend a world that we can perceive. This puts us way back to the same type of mind that the primitives had when they, too, could perceive a great deal more than they could comprehend so became superstitious and developed manic fears. And you can see that all over this society in cults and conspiracy theories and doom purveyors and so on.
It is very difficult if not demoralizing, to perceive the world and yet not to comprehend it. It comes back to Christ's question of "what good is it to gain the whole world but lose your soul?" I think he was thinking along these lines and he was right. What good is it to have all of these things and yet not have a soul? And the soul requires certain things. It is connected to relationships and certain fundamentals and this raises another terrible thing about this civilization. The question of whether or not we have abandoned our souls. This is something that was felt very strongly at that period of time. How to rescue the soul? The first attempt was to get more elemental, get back to the country and so on. It became clear to me that writers, especially, had to discover and articulate the soul, to make it manifest.
It seemed as though the soul was being abandoned by a culture that was far more interested in pleasure, centering its life on the senses and so removing the profundities of soul which can only be struck by the soul. I think this is one of the reasons why the society turned fundamentalist. I think that is unfortunate because the religions you see active now are very repressive.
It was soul and it was potential. It was soul and it was that which potentially could exist and the wherewithal to get from point A to point B and the type of relationship that had to be established between the internal self, living in the world and objects of attainment which you were trying to project out in some fashion. Those were very definite questions in those early 70's period.
My view of technology now is that the individual technical object can be neutered by understanding. Experience teaches you that these technical objects have many limitations themselves. They can only go so fast, do certain things. So, in the profound sense they are tools for the enhancement of human beings. I can't say that I am anti-technological but I think we have to deal with the type of society that is being created by our centering of endeavor on technical projects on the one hand and, then, on the other in the pleasure principle. That spells danger because you are not producing the type of citizens that you need in a democratic society. You are not producing the type of citizens that are going to have to carry complex problems; that are going to have to take on problems.
My focus changed when I was around 27 or 28 years old as I tried to protect myself from the terrible abyss that you perceive from time to time. I think it is menacing to perceive. That is no doubt a common experience.
One of the antidotes for this type of world is the knowledge of history and the study of historical epochs That allows us to get inside the persons living in a completely different time. I was reading Lincoln's letters last night and the period of time came alive. Lincoln became a real, living human being. You could have a very good conversation with him I think. And it not only made his period come alive but it made this one come alive as well because you can go through the 1860's, through the 70's and the Grant period, through the 80's when my grandfather was born, up through McKinley, and then from the turn of century up to this period. I had relatives living then who are directly responsible for me living here. So, these types of connections help ameliorate some of the dehumanizing effects of this time.
It effects literary production insofar as the literary man is as subject to this stuff as anyone else. I grew up with HG Wells, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, among others and they had a far more positive view of technology and, in fact, they were optimistic enough to try and envision a technological people and I just don't have that same kind of enthusiasm. I have an enthusiasm for new technologies when I see them emerge. But technology is becoming a fairly mundane, bureaucratic affair these days; a necessity that everyone is dependent on.
The more important question is "how best to live?" "what makes the good life given the technological tools at hand?" It always goes back to that because no matter how we try to escape from reality we can't do it. Can't do it through art or sex or power or technology or money or through killing. It is impossible to escape; you always come back to those questions.
A lot of good things are going on in this culture; interesting things. It is a sophisticated environment. It is not a case of "if your ideas are being denied or your obsessions are not fathomed by most of the people you have to deny the rest of the world". There are a lot of good things going on. You simply want to make sure that the types of dehumanization or inhumanity that can break out don't break out and reach a critical mass. The worst case of it now is in these gangs and the gun mania. The greed aspect is bothersome because it contradicts every value that human beings have struggled for. It indicates to me a real bad portent, a bad omen. When people begin to give value to those things that contradict the essential values and, in fact, deride those essential values, cast them aside as unimportant, then trouble is afoot.
And then that same world views the most unimportant things in life as the most significant! I think this is what destroys the integrity of life. I think the moralist in me sees it this way. I am offended by some things. It shocks me to see some of the stuff I have countenanced in myself. It indicates to me that even a good pissant can be tempted away from life instinct. I am not talking about moralizing. It's more the way in which the human being brings himself into line with the life instinct. If that doesn't happen it wanders and wanders until it latches onto the death instinct. And I think humans have seen this for thousands of years. This is why they have been so adamant about reality and I think we are playing with fire by getting away from it and the only way we are getting away with it is that we are so successful as a society. New discoveries, new ways of life, new things are necessary and so good and bad elements attemp to break up the status quo allowing the new horizons, inventions etal to arise and not be smothered by the moralists. And I agree with this. But at the same time you have to have a society. It is a perilous thing. There is always the possibility of going down into the death instinct and getting caught there. So I believe the moralist is important. I think there is a lot of bad psychic energy in the society. It's been analyzed ad nauseum. You have to learn how to perceive it and turn away from it.
And you can't deny the crush of stress and pressure that is part and parcel of this civilization. These were central questions from the time I was 20 up through 27 years old. The questions implicated my own life since I didn't want to be turned into a producer/consumer type. I don't really question it. I always assumed the culture needed creativity rather than one more producer and consumer. Most people don't perceive it that way. Most people don't understand the unholy game that is being played and get quite disturbed if you are not playing it the way they are.
© 2001 David Eide. All rights reserved.